How To Tell Your Husband Or Wife — 'I Want A Divorce'

Photo: Unsplash: Velizar Ivanov
How To Tell Your Husband Or Wife, 'I Want A Divorce'

You don't need to 'ask' anyone.

While many men and women have difficulty ask their husband or wife for a divorce, staying in an unhappy marriage only hurts both spouses and the children in the long run.

Not only are decisions about whether or not to get a divorce, and if so, how to get a divorce, painfully difficult to navigate along the way, but trying to figure out how, when and where to say the actual words — "I want a divorce" — is a brutal psychological undertaking.

And yet, most often, this process of thinking it through, planning it out and following through with the steps necessary for actualization is usually worse then the experience of the talk itself when it finally does happen.


RELATED: How To Know (For Sure) If It's Time To Let Go Of Your Marriage


Just as so many men and women never ask for a divorce or break up with a long time boyfriend or girlfriend because they are concerned about hurting the other person, their children (if they have them), and the life they have built together, there are also many situations in which one spouse does indeed ask for a divorce or break up and allows themselves to be talked out of it by a partner determined to stay together no matter what.

Here's how to get a divorce started as peacefully as possible and make saying the words "I want a divorce" less traumatic for both you and your spouse.*

1. Arrange a specific time and place to have the conversation. 

If you keep waiting for the ideal moment to magically make itself known to you by the mystical pattern of the stars, you will not only be waiting for an eternity, you will be increasing the likelihood that one of these you will simply explode in a rage of pent up frustration, sending both of you off on a mad race to find the best (read most unnecessarily expensive) attorney in the city before the other one does.

Find a time you can both sit down at home with no kids and no meetings or otherwise calendared plans either of you will feel pressured or distracted by the clock.


2. Be brief and be honest.

If you have reached the point of deciding to get a divorce, chances are that the two of you have already endured arguments, therapy, discussions and cross-complaints. By the time most couples divorce, they have made each other well aware of each of their feelings of dissatisfaction with each other and with married life.

Now is not the time to rehash those arguments. Blame is irrelevant and why is no longer at issue. Marriage is complicated and this is a time for simplification.

This is all that is necessary:

“We both know our marriage is less satisfying than either of us want or deserve. I appreciate you and I appreciate the life we have shared. I am ready for us to move forward now with a divorce.”


3. Allow your spouse to feel what he or she feels.

Once you’ve made the statement above, all you need to do is pause. There is no way to predict how your spouse will react. Yelling? Crying? Silence? Begging? Agreement? You can’t accurately guess in advance how they will react, so don’t stress yourself out trying.

Just let it happen. No need to argue back. No need to yell back or console or apologize or try to make it all OK. It isn’t all OK — that’s the whole point. Allow her to have her response and see number 4 below.


4. Choose a “conversational mantra” in advance.

Memorize these words, or something similar that feels more natural to your typical way of speaking, and have them in your mind and ready to share as needed.

“I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”

They beg you to reconsider: “I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”

They call you some horrible name: “I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”

They ask why you keep repeating yourself: “Because I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”

Like a tennis match, one person can only keep hitting the ball over the net so many times to a partner who refuses to hit it back. Eventually they will get tired, run out of balls and move on. (Pun not intended, but I kind of like it.)


RELATED: 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting Divorced


5. Avoid agreeing to a trial separation if possible.

One of the worst habits of human nature is that we attempt to prolong the inevitable in order to spare ourselves pain. I know that never turns out particularly well for me. How’s it working for you?

The most complicated divorce cases I see are those coming on the heels of a lengthy separation. By the time a married couple have lived separate lives for 6 months, a year or more, there are already new complications laid in their path like fresh cement that may fully solidify at any given moment.

Maybe one of you has a new significant other. Maybe you each have new bank accounts and credit cards and investments along with the old joint ones, and you have been taking from one and placing into another and there is so much financial co-mingling you just bought yourself a full year with a forensic accountant. Maybe the kids are confused and anxious and struggling in school and adding to the pressure all-around. I promise you, it is never a pretty picture.

If the idea of a separation does come up, remember your mantra. “I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”


6. DO NOT bring legal actions or negotiations into the conversation.

This is not the time to have divorce papers served or tell your spouse you retained an attorney. You are sharing a decision about the status of your relationship, not telling your partner how custody and finances are going to be divided, what you have been told to do next, or what they will or will not get in a settlement.

If you reach a state of calm and your spouse asks you something along the lines of “What’s next?,” you can simply say that you would like to explore the options together.

The two of you can each research divorce mediators in your area through Google or an online directory such as, or you can agree that one of you will select two or three local mediators to schedule consultations with. Once you have selected someone with whom you both feel comfortable, the mediator will guide you through the process of filing, responding and negotiating all of the parenting and financial aspects of your divorce.


7. Discuss how and when you will tell the children (if you have them).

You may decide to wait a few days to let it all sink in. You may decide to wait and see what your selected mediator suggests. You may wish to go to either or both of your therapists first.

The important thing is that you and your spouse agree on when and how you will share the information of the divorce with the children together as a team, just as you will remain a team as their parents.


8. If the discussion can't be completed in one conversation, set a time and place together for the next.

This can be a lot to get through with such heavy emotions in the air. If either one of you needs some time apart to think, talk to a therapist or trusted friend, or even just breathe, that is completely understandable and should be readily agreed to.

Take care to avoid just letting the conversation fade by asking when you can continue the conversation. You can choose a specific time and place, or agree one of you will touch base with the other by the next afternoon at the latest. You have come so far and taken this HUGE step. It would be a shame to allow your spoken decision to be brushed under the rug of her upset.

This is bound to be one of the most difficult conversations of your life. Keep in mind that you are not doing anything to anyone. You are gifting both of you with a key to freedom from the jail you’ve been living in.

You are not destroying a happy marriage, no matter what ANYONE says to you.

A happy marriage requires two happy spouses.

If your marriage was a solid and happy one, you wouldn’t be racking your brain right now trying to decide when and how to ask for a divorce in the first place.


*Extremely Important Note: These suggestions are not intended to address situations in which domestic violence has occurred or could be reasonable predicted to occur. Leaving an abuser is an extremely dangerous time for both men and women in such situations. Seek professional guidance if you have reason to believe asking for a divorce could endanger you or your children.


RELATED: How To Make Your Divorce As Expensive As Humanly Possible

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Senior Editor and happily-former divorce coach/mediator Arianna Jeret is a recognized expert on love and relationships (except when it comes to her own life, of course) who has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Style, Fox News, Bustle, Parents and more. Join her Sundays at 10:15 PM EST when she answers questions on Facebook Live on YourTango. For more, follow her on Twitter (@ariannajeret) and Instagram (@ariannajer).

This article was originally published at Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.